10 Productivity Hacks for Writers

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If you ever feel like you could be getting more out of your writing time, you’re not alone. It’s not easy. Distraction and procrastination are sneaky little monsters and they’re exceptionally good at what at they do. On top of that, writers are often time-poor and idea-rich. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. If this is you and, like me, you’re obsessed with (or at least open to) the idea of life-hacks, here are 10 that might be just what you need to boost your productivity:

1) Goal, targets, and finding your WHY

An obvious one but it has to be said. Goals and targets give you a sense of direction. When you think about goals, break them down into micro-steps - a process called ‘chunking’. Big hairy goals = scary. Chunks = doable actions. Pour everything from your head onto paper (or into something like Evernote, Notes, Todoist, Scrivener, Word, or Excel for the spreadsheet-lovers). Now group or regroup your chunks. 

For each group of goals/actions, make sure you’re very clear about your WHY. Your WHY is everything. It makes the difference between a heart-sinkingly boring To Do list and something that gets you out of bed in the morning. Write it down if you have to. Put it up on a noticeboard if you have one. WHY do you want this? What’s the bigger game plan here? You can find a WHY even for the seemingly mundane stuff. If you can’t find your WHY for a specific action, it’s something to cross off your list. 

Look at your (WHY-powered) groups and build in measurable targets and deadlines - reasonable ones with an element of stretch. On a deadline, build in BUFFERS. Stuff happens. You feel unwell. People around you are unwell. It snows and the country grinds to a halt. Be prepared. And track progress against your targets and deadlines on a regular basis (figure out what regular looks like for you). Review them every now and again. I like to do this at the beginning of the month/week, more often if I have lots going on. Note: if you MISS your targets, it is OKAY. My biggest productivity hack is actually number 10, deceptively placed at the very end: SELF-CARE. 

2) Project Management with Trello 

I LOVE Trello. It’s my brain outside of my brain (and outside of my brand new bullet journal obsession). It’s used a lot by startups and computer programmers to plan and track workflow. 

You can go really macro here if you have multiple manuscripts on the go. If you’re a picture book writer, you might have some early drafts, some in with an editor, agent or critique buddy, some going through a rewrite and some submission-ready. FOR EXAMPLE. You can tailor this. Here’s a simple setup I use for the big picture overview:

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Each ‘card’ is like a post-it note and you can add due dates, checklists and even attach documents and notes. I brain dump in the ‘IDEAS’ list and move things over to the ‘To Write’ list when I’m sure I want to work on them in the next 6 months. Things I’m working on TODAY get pulled over into the ‘TODAY’ list. That’s the list I zone in on. The rest can wait. See? Brain outside of my brain.

For illustrated non-fiction, I might break items down into spreads or chapters. Now that’s macro but you can go very micro too. You can put in tiny things you need to do in your manuscript - changing the POV, adding in events and threading them through the story, or global checks for words and phrases you overuse. You might have some critique group comments that you’d like to implement. The Trello board gives you a process. With a satisfying drag-and-drop action, you can move your items from ‘IDEAS’ to ‘TO DO’ to ‘DOING’ to ‘DONE’, personal-Kanban-style. Or you can lock them in a WAITING list if you’re waiting on feedback. 

The more you do this, the easier it’ll be to work out which system works best for you. The answer might be multiple systems - one macro, one for each big project, one for your blogging schedule, and maybe one to track submissions. Play with it and see how you feel. Maybe you’ll find you’re a tactile person and you really need to stick to physical post-its/notecards and noticeboards. I love those too but the space-saving and time-saving nature of Trello (and the therapeutic aspects of bashing things out on a keyboard) is a huge plus for me. 

3) Time-blocking 

Time-blocking is about building blocks of time into your week to do certain things. It’s about thinking about ALL the things you want to spend time on, how much you’d like to (or need to) spend on them, and when. You might just use this to build in a block of time for your writing (maybe even one or two specific high priority projects) but you can extend this to cover other things like time with family/friends, me-time, a workout slot, anything. If you want to take it that far, I highly recommend an exercise I learnt from startup mentor Alexis Kingsbury: designing your perfect week. It’s about setting your intention. It might look like a stretch to begin with but the idea is to gradually work towards it. If you have a job and/or little-people-related commitments, factor that in. If your dream is to set up a business so you have more flexibility, factor in time to work towards that. 

Also, build in BREAKS. Build in do-nothing time or do-whatever time. Build in things like cooking or vegetable prep. When I’m on a deadline, if I don’t prep meals, I risk reaching for unhealthy alternatives that send me into a proper downward spiral. Yes, I plan meals too. Can’t be wasting time thinking about what to cook. If this seems a little extreme, tone it down. Do what works for you. 

4) Writing Sprints

These are very popular. You might have heard of the Pomodoro Technique. The way it works is that you pick a task you want to get done (a chunk!), you set a timer for 25 minutes, get your head down and work on it until the timer rings. Then you take a break (maybe 5 minutes). That’s one ‘Pomodoro’ (in our case, a writing sprint). You can repeat the cycle and take a longer break every 4 Pomodoros or so (the Pomodoro people recommend 20-30 mins). I might be attacked by Pomodoro purists here but you can customise the length of your personal Pomodoros if you find 25 minutes isn’t the right amount of time for you. Maybe 25 minute sprints are what you need to stop you falling down rabbit holes when researching but maybe you prefer longer sprints when editing. Also, the more you do this, the easier it gets to judge how many Pomodoros you might need for a specific activity. Whatever your approach, it helps to have a really specific goal for your writing sprint. Research X. Map out these particular scenes. Write a ‘dirty draft’ of chapter 1 or a new picture book manuscript. Could be anything. Use your chunks from section 1! 

There are apps to help you incorporate this into your writing routine. Here are two I find really useful: 

  • Forest App - you set the timer and off you go, planting saplings in a virtual forest as you write. If you keep your head down and stay away from your phone, you grow a tree. If you mess about on your phone, your tree dies. You can attach notes to each tree so you know what you were working on. Over time, you’ll grow whole forests and be able to track progress in a big picture overview. 

  • Be Focused Pro - I love this one because it has a start-stop timer and makes it really easy to track work on multiple projects. If you get the desktop version, it can live on your desktop for easy access. Former litigation lawyers might want to stay away from this one to avoid work-related (specifically, time-sheet-related) flashbacks.

If you want a screen-free solution, any timer will do the job. Or you can be super-authentic and find yourself a tomato-shaped one.  

5) Distraction minimisation strategies

The first step towards minimising distractions is to let go of the MYTH of multitasking. It’s not how we’re wired. Yes, we can multitask when it comes to automated processes like breathing or our heart pumping blood around the body but doing two actual To Do list tasks at once? No. We’re not multitasking, we’re switching between tasks. That constant stopping and starting costs us time (and energy). The key here is reducing switching. Do one thing at a time. One chunk of work. 

I KNOWWW it is tempting to jump onto the internet to look stuff up while you’re writing but RESIST. Write it down in a good old-fashioned notebook and schedule it in for your research sprint. Random idea for a completely different story pops into your head? GREAT. Note it down and move on. Random idea totally unconnected to writing pops into your head? GREAT. See above. I often hear people say they can’t meditate because their heads are so full of thoughts. Of course your head is full of thoughts. That sense of stillness doesn’t come from an empty head - it comes from being able to let those thoughts in and out without getting too involved with them. I think the same applies with internal distractions when you write - you can’t force your brain to stop but you can watch, accept, and let it go. Or write it down to get it out of your system. 

If the internet is your biggest distraction, it’s okay - there are some tech solutions to help with this: 

  • Forest App (again!) or the Forest browser extension for your desktop

  • Other browser extensions like WasteNoTime or Freedom - these will control how much time you spend on the internet or on specific sites (Freedom has an app version for your smartphone too) 

  • ‘Composition mode’ if you’re a Scrivener user - lets you work in full screen view with nothing but your manuscript in front of you. Ulysses has a similar full-screen feature for distraction-free writing. 

Alternatively, you could knock out your internet and put your phone away. Maybe hide somewhere with really rubbish wifi. Or ditch the screen entirely and write longhand in your notebook. Lots of people find this really freeing. Writing longhand makes it even easier to stop and chuck any random distracting thoughts or To-Do-type brainwaves into another notebook as you go along. 

Also, enlist the help of friends and family. Ask them to hold you accountable. If you have a writing block scheduled in, make sure they know so they don’t tempt you away with juicy gossipy phonecalls or invitations for coffee. 

If your main distraction challenge involves little people, I HEAR YOU. In that case, it’s going to be about working around them. Can you keep them happy with busy boxes and/or safe zones for a Pomodoro or two? Realistically though, you’ll probably be getting your best work done when they’re asleep. THEY SLEEP, RIGHT? I HOPE THEY SLEEP! If not, just know that I am sending you the biggest virtual hug you can imagine. 

6) Understand your real reason for procrastinating and bring yourself back to your WHY 

Procrastination is a defence mechanism (there was a great discussion around this on the SCBWI British Isles Facebook group). Helps you avoid doing THE SCARY THING. Saves you from all the stress and all the consequences of that stress. Sometimes just knowing this and bringing your attention back to your work can make a huge difference. The moment you’re aware that you’re procrastinating - that moment is magic. In that moment, you have a choice. Bringing your attention back is something you can practise. I’m not saying I always make the right choice. My weakness is Twitter. The tougher a deadline, the more often I reach for Twitter. Don’t ask why. It’s soothing. It’s…an addiction. I’m working on it. See above :)

One thing that really helps bring me back to the writing is reminding myself of my WHY.  My WHY drives me. It gives me a sense of urgency. It reminds me of something bigger than myself. I don’t know if I’m making sense here but this is my experience: when I go that wide, that big, it’s somehow so much easier to get back to that laser focus. My debut picture book, HOW TO BE EXTRAORDINARY (shameless plug - out this August and illustrated by Annabel Tempest!) was a labour of love. The delivery schedule was intense. What got me through it was my WHY. 

7) Writing rituals 

The idea behind writing rituals is to introduce some consistency, to prime the mind and body to focus. If you eat lunch or meditate at the same time every single day for a good stretch of time, you’ll find that your mind and body are primed to feel hungry or to relax at that specific time. It just helps you get into the zone faster. Timing isn’t something everyone can be consistent with but there are plenty of other things you can do: 

  • A writing space - something practical, wonder-inspiring, and filled with things you love if that works for you or clean and crisp if that’s what you need to focus. For some people, it’s a type of space - like noisy cafes or trains (WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOUR SECRETS?!!). 

  • Writing stationery - my FAVOURITE. Apologies if this sounds a bit woo but something that inspires reverence. A notebook and pen that make you feel something. 

  • Music - I write this with some hesitation because I like silence and use music during my breaks (during which I blast bhangra and dance around the room…) but APPARENTLY, some writers have writing playlists. 

  • A fragrance - this isn’t for everyone but you could have a fragrance in play when you sit down to write (perfume/cologne, essential oils, or even candles unless you’re clumsy like me in which case I really recommend reed diffusers). Sounds a bit out there, again, but there’s evidence to suggest a primal connection between smell and memory. PRIMING. 

  • Actual RITUALS - something you say or do at the start of every session. A breathing technique or meditation or affirmation. 10 push-ups. I don’t know. 

  • A writing uniform - if you’re writing at home, this might mean PJs. Or what I like to think of as LOUNGEWEAR (essentially a change of PJs for after your morning shower). 

  • SNACKS or a CUP OF SOMETHING - if you’re like me, you’ll like this one. Mental associations are really powerful. Maybe you can build one between a specific snack and a writing project? Be careful what you choose though. For me, HOW TO BE EXTRAORDINARY will forever be connected to Lindt milk chocolate and yerba mate tea. I might try celery for Book 2. Will see how I get on. 

8) Setting yourself up for tomorrow 

A mini-tip but really rather good. Picked this one up from Louise Dean who runs The Novelry. She often talks about Hemingway’s productivity hack: ‘Stop when you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day’. Let your subconscious do the work. The next day, you’ll pull up at your desk all excited. Much better than starting your session with a mental roadblock. 

9) Accountability buddies and peer mentoring 

Whoever said writing is a solitary activity? It doesn’t have to be. Lots of writers use critique groups to swap manuscripts. Have you tried swapping game plans? Critique (or SUPPORT) groups can help keep you on track. They’re a sounding board for ideas, a shoulder to cry on, a warm hug and whoop and cheer for every stage of your writing career. Find them at places like SCBWI, the Golden Egg Academy, or The Novelry. Or on Twitter via writing hashtags like #ukpbchat, #ukmgchat, and #funnybookchat. The important thing with this kind of group is fit. It’s like love. Once you find it, you’ll just know. 

PEER MENTORING is amazing. Nikesh Shukla did an incredible session on this at our PRH WriteNow reunion. It’s not about dishing out advice - it’s about actively listening and asking the right questions, helping another writer figure things out for themselves. Helping them get unstuck when they feel stuck. Helping them organise their thoughts and put together a plan of attack when they’re in a state of overwhelm. My peer mentoring buddy from WriteNow is incredible - I feel so fired up after talking to her and I learn as much from her session as I do from my own. I come out with a concrete strategy then I get to work putting down those goals and targets, setting up my Trello boards, and time-blocking. It all fits together. 

Find a peer mentor and a close peer group to act as your accountability buddies. Publishing is a long road and it doesn’t end with your debut. Accountability buddies keep you focused. 

10) SELF-CARE

This is hands down my biggest productivity hack. I am at my writerly best when I’m rested and when I’m happy. For me, personally, my health is my lead domino. When I’m taking care of that (to the extent I can given the body I have), everything else falls into place. I’m a better mother, a better daughter, a better writer. If I sacrifice that to try and race through my Trello board, everything starts to fall apart. I get sick, I get short-tempered, and small tasks start to feel completely overwhelming. You might recognise this spiral. 

Self-care is so individual. Find out what that means for you. Might be:

  • A hot bath 

  • A long walk 

  • A writing break to refuel 

  • Exercise (I love yoga but I actually find lifting weights just as calming - again, it’s personal) 

  • Eating well (and taking time to eat as opposed to wolfing down your lunch al desko!) 

  • Putting away your phone or stepping away from social media to take a break from the book deal announcements, the politics, or just the mindless scrolling

  • Treating yourself to nice things, whatever they may be! 

  • Not comparing yourself to others - everyone is on their own journey and there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff we don’t see

  • Surrounding yourself with other writers who get it

  • Laughing with people who love you 

  • Curling up with a hot chocolate and a good book

  • Forgiving yourself for days where your well runs dry 

This post has been very GO GO GO but the truth is this: you can use all the productivity hacks in the world but if you’re not gentle with yourself, you’ll burn out. And burnt out people are notoriously unproductive. 


Be hungry, be ambitious. 

STRETCH. 

But take care of yourself. 

5 Reasons Why Editors Are AMAZING

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1) THEY’RE ON TEAM “YOU”. 

As a writer, the thought of getting comments back on your work is daunting. It’s like a flashback to school. But it’s not school. Red pen isn’t a bad thing (I say that but I’ve noticed many schools have now banned red because it’s too confrontational?!). When your editor sends your text back with scribbles all over it, THIS IS GOOD. Editors aren’t the enemy. They’re on Team YOU. They want the best for your writing, for your book, and for your career (which, they hope, will be a long and happy one with THIS as your lovely publishing “home”). When you look at it like that, pen is good. It means they’ve found ways to elevate and strengthen your story. They’re busy people. If they’re sending comments, it’s because they’re invested in you. A good editor will show you that. They’ll lift your spirits and their belief in you will be infectious. You’ll go to sleep with a smile stuck to your face. Writers are delicate creatures. LET’S BE HONEST - we like a bit of love. 


2) THEY’RE YOUR INTERNAL CHAMPIONS

At a publisher, your editor is the person who will be your internal HERO. They’ll pass your book around the team and rally up the troops. They’ll do all the strategising, number crunching and Excel wizardry you need to get through the Acquisitions meeting - a magical convention under the light of a full moon where books are bought and songs are sung (or something like that). Your editor LOVES your book and wants to make everyone else fall in love with it too. See? Team YOU. All the way. 


3) THEY READ WITH FRESH EYES

Fact of the matter is you’re too close to your work. We all are. We’ve read it a zillion times and on the zillion-and-second reading, the randomest stuff starts to make sense. Resting a manuscript can help but what helps even more is someone completely removed from it. Your editor comes at the whole thing with a fresh head. They can SEE the holes. They don’t know all that beautiful backstory. They don’t know what you were absolutely trying to get across. They see what’s on the page and (drawing on all their experience) what a reader might get out of it. And it’s not just the holes - they see opportunities too! After working on a story for some time, you take certain things for granted. They’re so deeply embedded in the story - things like the setting, the gender of your characters, the POV, the tense. After a point, you may not even play around with some of those. In swoops the editor with a “WHAT IF” you hadn’t thought about and MAYBE, just maybe, it takes the whole thing to a completely different level. My PRH WriteNow editor-mentor did this for one of my stories and it blew my mind.


4) THEY KNOW THEIR STUFF 

This goes without saying really. They’ve got their fingers on the pulse. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. If they’re a top quality editor, they have good gut feel for these things. They’ve mastered the art of reviewing a manuscript, analysing it, pulling it apart to stress-test it and putting it back together again. They can do that “rotate-a-3D-object-in-space” thing but with your story. They can IMAGINE the crazy structural edit that might just transform your book. I’m not saying you should do a blanket “ACCEPT ALL CHANGES”. Look at the comments with a cup of tea and a cool head. Take the things that you agree with, question the ones you’re not sure about. ASK about the ones you can’t wrap your brain around. They won’t judge you. They love you. See above.

Which reminds me - something they don’t tell you: EDITING IS A CONVERSATION. It’s a fluid, organic thing. There’s a lot of back and forth between editor and writer. You’ll settle into a routine with this and it’ll become more natural. Over time, you’ll be more confident challenging things where you feel like you’re losing the heart of your story or asking what feels like a silly, niggly, oh-God-I’m-wasting-your-time-type question. Challenge things and ask away. But also remember, we can’t be precious about everything - editors do know their stuff. 


5) THEY’RE CONDUCTORS IN THE ORCHESTRA THAT IS THE MAKING OF YOUR BOOK

Be nice to your editors, okay? The job title is misleading. They do so much more than edit (she says as if THAT in itself isn’t a HUGE thing).  If you’re a picture book writer, they’re working across the words and pictures, liasing with the designer (who is like an editor for the illustrator), agents (if any), the copyediting team, sales, marketing, and publicity. For some types of books, this is a LOT of work. And multiply that by “A LOT” because there will be a number of books in the pipeline + the glorious backlist to look after and refresh + more books coming through submissions channels. 


And despite ALL of that, they’re totally here (within reason and as far as practicable) for your individual clingy-writerly needs. They’re your product managers, your extra pair of fresh eyes, your champions. And no matter what anyone tells you, they’re on Team YOU. 

*This post is about editors at a publishing house but a lot of this applies to any professional editor. My Golden Egg Academy Picture Book Programme editors, for example, were amazing. With one lyrical story, my editor sent comments that took MONTHS to unpack but the result was incredible - more on that another day.

Prepping for NaNoWriMo

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NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and it does what it says on the tin: you write a full draft of a novel in a month. It won’t be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever created but it’ll be done. And a done thing is something special. Can’t edit a blank page etc…

There’s a website for the hardcore NaNoWrimers who’d like to buddy up and there are badges and goodies on offer for ‘winners’ i.e. anyone who gets 50,000 words down in the month of November. This is my first crack at it and as I’m working on young illustrated fiction, I’m aiming at half that for the word count. My workload is already crazy (for some very exciting reasons!) and I can’t deal with another website SO, instead, I’ve joined Sarah Broadley’s ‘Nearly Nano’ club, a closed Facebook group of writers who are NEARLY Nano-ing.

It’s NaNoWriMo eve and here’s where I am with prep:

  1. Writing space cleared and prettified. (Note - the picture above is NOT a picture of my actual writing space though I’d LOVE a golden pineapple and a rusty old typewriter.)

  2. Writing buddies located (in my case the whole of the Nearly Nano club - am swimming in their slipstream!)

  3. New Moleskine prepped and favourite pen kept aside. Pen(s) hidden away from tiny hands. Last thing we need during NaNoWriMo is a pen crisis.

  4. Mentor texts chosen for the journey. I want to eat, sleep, and breathe the genre. One of the best things I learned from Louise Dean at The Novelry was the importance of studying the masters. I’m spending the first few days deconstructing some books and figuring out what makes them work. The rest of the month, I’ll be reading my mentor texts over and over alongside drafting my own. As Louise says, we have two pedals - one is writing, the other is reading!

  5. Scrivener set up with chapter breakdowns and character profiles. Synopsis ready to be tweaked, cut up and expanded into scenes in the first week of NaNoWriMo. Character profiles in dire need of fleshing out but again, I’m making time for that in the first week of November once the little ones are back in school.

  6. Training schedule fixed. This sounds out of place, I know, but hear me out. Fitness is my lead domino - it’s the One Thing I can work on that makes everything else better (thank you Gary Keller and Jay Papasan). If I’m really going to get through a 25k draft AND honour my other writing commitments AND be a decent parent, I need to be healthy. I’m done with burnout. I played that game in my 20s as a lawyer. That’s not me anymore. I’m doing things differently now. And lifting weights completely transforms my level of focus for the entire day.

  7. Timeblocking sorted for the month. I’m a HUGE fan of productivity hacks and this is one of my favourites. Since becoming a parent, I’ve lost a lot of the flexibility I had. I now have drop-offs, pick-ups, clubs, school commitments and a heap of extra life admin to contend with. My way of dealing with that is to block out time for specific writing projects and for reading.

So that’s me all set, I think. Woefully underprepared plot-wise but I am where I am and I have my reasons! It’s such a hectic month, actually, so it’s counter-intuitive to be squeezing in drafting a whole novel but I have a feeling it’ll work out. I plan on being SUPER-forgiving - it’s a Draft Zero. I just want to get something down. Also, next year, things are going to get REALLY busy so this is essentially ‘downtime’!

Enough of my rambling. MASSES of good luck to everyone attempting NaNoWriMo (or Nearly Nano) this month! WE GOT THIS. And if we don’t, well, that’s okay too…

A shout-out to the HEROES: Inclusivity in Children's Publishing PART 2

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The Reflecting Realities report published by the CLPE earlier this week paints a bleak picture of inclusivity in UK children's publishing. I had my restrained rant when it came out but today what I want to focus on is celebrating the amazing work that is already happening to help effect positive change in this area. The champions of inclusivity, the changemakers. Please read, share, and add any projects I've missed. 

Finding and nurturing underrepresented voices

Publishers

The FAB Prize: Faber & Faber (Faber Children's) joint initiative with Andlyn Agency to discover and celebrate children's writers and illustrators of BAME origins. The winners receive a year of mentoring. (Another Faber Children's commitment: 40% of all children's book covers from picture books through to YA to feature underrepresented characters in order to reflect the reality of our society. It's something the team is really passionate about.)  

Little Tiger Press Illustrator Callout: have put out a specific call for illustrators from underrepresented backgrounds to submit illustrations for their Our Town series of books set in an inclusive town with a diverse population. In their callout, they mention the fact that underrepresented illustrators may not have the means or knowhow to put together a formal portfolio - this approach, like other programmes mentioned here, helps cast the net that little bit wider. 

The Penguin Random House (PRH) UK WriteNow Programme: a one-year mentoring opportunity for underrepresented writers and illustrators (not just children's). Siena Parker who runs the scheme at PRH puts a lot of energy into getting her team on the ground across the UK to actively seek out undiscovered writers and illustrators. Applications are still open for illustrators - deadline 23rd July 2018. I've been fortunate enough to be on this life-changing programme this year and have blogged about it here.

Knights Of: a new independent publisher with inclusivity at its heart. They publish books for ages 5 through to 15. Their hiring practices are diverse, their books are "windows into as many worlds as possible" and their most unique contribution to the industry is being supremely accessible - if you want to write for them, you use their Live Chat system to pitch your idea. It's a CHAT. Doesn't get more straightforward than that. I think that's a real barrier breaker right there. They also run the #BooksMadeBetter project to get fantastic diverse books into the hands of children around the country. 

Lantana Publishing: another young independent publisher focused on inclusivity. ALL their books are by BAME authors and illustrators. 

Agents 

Many literary agents have specifically reached out to underrepresented communities to welcome their submissions and offer support whether that's in the form of highlighting a submission (and perhaps bumping it up in the queue) or offering scholarships to attend writing festivals or courses, mentoring/support and advice re navigating the industry. I won't catch all of them (please tell me if you have more to add!) but here are a few that have particularly vocal in this respect. 

Alice Williams Literary 

Alice Sutherland-Hawes at Madeleine Milburn 

Andlyn  

The Bent Agency 

The Darley Anderson Children's Book Agency 

David Higham Associates

The Good Literary Agency 

The Lindsay Literary Agency

Other organisations and initiatives

Commonword: an Arts Council funded, Manchester-based writer development programme. Commonword runs the Commonword Diversity Young Adult Fiction Prize for unpublished MG and YA novelists whose writing embraces ethnic diversity. 

Inclusive Minds: a collaboration of consultants and campaigners around the themes of inclusivity, equality and accessibility in children's literature. They offer consulting, sensitivity readers and have brought a whole host of industry professionals together through their A Place at the Table event. A full report from the event can be found here

Megaphone: an Arts Council funded writer development programme to nurture new BAME voices in publishing.  The 2016-17 scheme was a great success - mentees have found agents and had short and long fiction accepted for publication and broadcasting. The scheme is due to be repeated in the near future. 

Quarto Translations/Golden Egg Academy Award for the Golden Egg Academy children's fiction programme (application deadline 31st July 2018) 

Tiny Owl: an independent publisher worth mentioning because their beautiful books all feature BAME characters and stories.  

Behind the scenes: changing the demographics in publishing

A number of publishing houses have made pledges around diverse hiring practices to make sure their internal demographics make them more reflective of society. 

Penguin Random House, for example, has pledged that its new hires and books acquired will reflect UK society by 2025. 

Hachette has recently hired its first Diversity and Inclusion Manager

There have also been a number of paid internships and publishing positions on offer with a specific callout to underrepresented communities. That the internships are paid is significant as income-related issues have historically been a huge barrier in this industry. Again, there are many more instances here that I've missed so please flag them and I'll update the list. 

Why stop to celebrate when there's work to be done? 

I know it's important to stay ambitious and focused and it's important we don't start thinking enough is being done because it's not enough. Still, sometimes it's also worth pausing to tip your hat to the heroes, the people who are already out there making a difference. Maybe there's somewhere we can fit in too. Maybe there's a gap that needs filling. Ideas spark ideas and action sparks action...

 

See here for Representation not Diversity: Inclusivity in Children's Publishing PART 1

Representation not Diversity - Inclusivity in Children's Publishing PART 1

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Today, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) published Reflecting Realities, its 2017 report on ethnic representation in UK children's literature and I can't stop thinking about it. 

  • Only 1% of the 9115 children's books published in the UK in 2017 featured a BAME main character despite Department for Education (DofE) stats for the same year indicating that 32.1% of compulsory school age children were of minority ethnic origins. 
  • Only 4% featured BAME characters. 
  • Only ONE book featuring a BAME character was defined as a 'comedy'. ONE. 
  • 10% of BAME books submitted involved social justice themes. 

This isn't a surprise to anyone in publishing but it's a sobering read all the same. 

If books are mirrors to reflect our own lives and windows into the world around us, these statistics show that we've failed children across the board. Children need to be able to see themselves and, more importantly, the people around them, in the books they read and not just in culture-driven or issues-based narratives. We need to move from ‘diversity’ to ‘representation’, from ‘niche’ to ‘normal’. 

It’s not just about bunging in a brown child to tick a box. It’s about accurately reflecting the world we live in. The reality is that Caucasians account for a tiny proportion of the world population. And that world is changing rapidly. The future of Britain – sorry, Farage – probably isn’t ‘white’. In fact, a 2014 Policy Exchange report suggests non-white people will make up 20-30% of the population by 2051 (14% in 2014). The 2017 DofE figures show that 32.1% of school-age children are of minority ethnic origins. Let that sink in. That's almost a third. Now have a quick glance at the children's section in those big, shiny bookstores. We’re talking about diversity as if it’s a fluffy, cuddly nice-to-have for children when in so many instances, this is what their classroom, their community and their future place of work will actually look like. And if it isn’t now, chances are it will be as they get older. Riz Ahmed hits the nail on the head when he says: 

We're talking about representation, not diversity. Representation is not an added extra. It's not a frill. Representation is absolutely fundamental to what people expect from culture and from politics.’

Moving from niche to normal

Diverse stories shouldn’t have to be 'niche' and underrepresented writers shouldn’t feel obliged to write about social justice issues. Of course, they should be able to - those stories are important - but they should be equally empowered to write a bonkers book without a moral angle. BAME, LGBTQ+, differently abled and low-income people have rich internal lives that don’t revolve around the elements that put them into those categories*.

In picture books, for instance, the presence of such characters can be even more powerful when it’s incidental rather than integral to the plot. A book about a zebra in space that just happens to feature a child in a wheelchair as opposed to a whole story around a boy whose life-issue is that he can’t walk normalises diversity. After all, why can’t a little brown girl have a normal dinosaur experience? Why do we need to ask the question, is this essential to the plot? Does it drive the plot forward? Who cares? We’re talking about reflecting society. How about we flip the question and ask if the erasure of diverse characters is really justified? 

Who can write diverse characters? 

Surely with sensitivity and quality research, anyone can. I often hear that fears around cultural appropriation, misrepresentation and tokenism can hold writers back - I'm going to save that one for a separate post but there are ways of dealing with this. It doesn't need to be a full-on roadblock. 

AND WHERE ARE ALL THE DIVERSE CHILDREN'S WRITERS, ANYWAY?

I for one am keenly awaiting the results of the CLPE author/illustrator study to be released in September this year. I've been going out of my mind trying to understand where the issue is. Is it top of the funnel? Underrepresented people not thinking of writing as a career? Not feeling like they belong on the bookshelves? Malorie Blackman often says 'if you can't see it, you can't be it'. Is it further down? Not enough underrepresented writers signing with agents? Or is it the publishers? Are the manuscripts too niche? Not enough of a social justice spin on them? Is it about the demographic makeup of the industry? Or the commercial viability of books by underrepresented writers? The answer is almost certainly a mix of these. The 'why' matters because it shapes what good solutions should look like. And what 'success' looks like too. 

A glimmer of hope

Since the news broke this morning, I've seen a number of posts from agents, publishers, and authors looking to effect positive change. I've had a few conversations with people in the industry about what we can do and there are things in the pipeline, which I can't talk about just yet but they fill me with hope. In their Huffington Post article, Aimée Felone, Co-Founder of publisher Knights Of, and Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series, also have some wonderful suggestions as to what we can all do to make a difference. 

Finally, there's some great work being done already, which I will share in Part 2 to this post. Yes, there's a lot to do but change is afoot.

 

*The CLPE report focused on ethnic minority representation but the same principles apply to other underrepresented groups. 

 

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My WriteNow Journey: So far so wonderful

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WriteNow is a Penguin Random House (PRH) mentoring programme focused on discovering and nurturing underrepresented voices in publishing. I'm very fortunate to have been selected as one of 11 writers in this year's cohort. You can read about the others here - fantastic people working on some amazing and important stories. This post is a long overdue snapshot into my journey so far. 

Where it all started

I've been in love with writing all my life but took the scenic route to get here (law, the MBA, two babies and a business). Things got serious when I took a Writers' Workshop (now Jericho Writers) picture book course with the lovely Pippa Goodhart in Spring 2017 and went to the Winchester Writers' Festival for a jaw-droppingly brilliant workshop with my picture book hero Tracey Corderoy and Louise Bolongaro, Head of Picture Books at Nosy Crow. Story ideas were forming but the confidence was missing. When I saw WriteNow advertised on Twitter, I almost didn't apply. I didn't think I was good enough. Thankfully, in a moment of madness, I hit SEND on the application form. 

When I got through to the Insight Day, I had to submit a second picture book. I wrote it on the evening of the deadline in one sitting. Crazy wave of inspiration. This isn't my usual style but it resulted in my very best work to date and this is the book I'm now working on as part of the WriteNow programme. 

The Insight Day - Newcastle 2017

The Insight Day was a trek and a half to get to but it was an incredible experience. This is going to sound ridiculously cheesy but it was all about the vibe for me. Being in a room with all these writers from all kinds of backgrounds. Knowing that PRH believes in us and believes in our stories was just WOW. There was useful practical information about writing, editing and finding an agent and a really insightful 1:1 with an amazing editor who ended up being my mentor but what stood out for me was the energy and the hope in that room. It sent a shiver down my spine. 

Getting through to the programme

My knees were shaking during the Round 2 call but it was the same editor again and we had a really useful discussion around my manuscript. In fact, one single edit from that call has completely transformed the story (blog post to follow on the magic that editors bring to the table!). When I found out I had made it through to the final list, I almost cried into my Lemsip. I had a yucky cold at the time and was generally feeling sorry for myself so thank goodness the news came by email or I would have cried on the phone. I'm a great big softie, really. 

The mentoring

This deserves a post of its own but for now what I will say is MY GOODNESS, what a difference this has made to my writing. My editor-mentor, Anna Barnes, is an absolute legend. She gets what I'm trying to do, she believes in me 100% and I'm learning SO much from her. She's my champion at PRH and I'm very lucky to have had her look at my work right from the Insight Day. She's a great editor and she's all about shaping the programme to my needs. I couldn't have wished for a better mentor. 

The confidence-boost

Confession: I DID feel like the token brown picture book person on the list of mentees. Have you SEEN the other mentees? They are amazing! And then there's me. But WriteNow has been a huge confidence boost. PRH is not a charity. It's a business. This isn't some box-ticking exercise for the Annual Report. They've bought a number of WriteNow books already. The programme is about breaking through some of the barriers to discovering underrepresented writers. The mentors and Siena Parker who heads up the project are so passionate about this. My mentor has given up so much of her time because she believes in me. Now, when I look in the mirror, I see a writer. Not an aspiring writer. A writer. That subtle shift has been a gamechanger. 

WHAT NEXT? 

Well, that'd be telling. 

Watch this space. 

What are you waiting for? APPLY HERE! Applications are open until 9 July 2018 for writers and 23 July 2018 for illustrators! 

 

 

 

7 things I learnt from Storystorm 2018: How to come up with new ideas

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Storystorm is a brilliant initiative by picture book writer Tara Lazar. It's PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) reborn, revamped and significantly easier to pronounce. The focus is on ideation or idea generation - 31+ ideas in the month of January and a blog post a day to help you on your way. This was my first time participating and I'm very glad I did. It's a wonderful, supportive community and a great way to knuckle down and churn out some potential material to work on for the rest of the year.

Here's what I learnt from the process:

1) IDEAS ARE EVERYWHERE: Something you see, something you read, something your child says or does, something you oh-so-casually hear when totally not desperately trying to eavesdrop at the local cafe. There's Pinterest, the cinema, and bookstores - existing titles and storylines that trigger new ones.  There's science, there's history, there's politics - now that's bursting with material (and don't get me started on picture books and politics - the way I see it, all writing is political). And dreams, of course (although, I have to say those "moments of genius" are often a lot less amazing and a lot more bizarre/scary on paper than they are in my head in the middle of the night). 

2) DISCIPLINE IS NOT A DIRTY WORD: In fact, carving out "ideation" time every day can work wonders. It's like eating or meditating at the same time every day. Your body and mind are primed to feel hungry or feel relaxed. Or to open the floodgates to new ideas. 

3) SOMETIMES THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO IS TO DO NOTHING: So, despite what I said in #2, there may be times when you need to step away from the notebook. I love mindfulness and meditation but even a bog-standard walk, a stint at the gym, cooking or doing the laundry can trigger the flow of ideas. Or ordering a takeaway, whatever works for you.

4) IT'S WORTH CASTING A WIDE NET (TO BEGIN WITH): Let your ideas do their thing. If you disqualify them before they even hit the page, you'll never really know how they feel and what they taste like. Crazy ideas can sprout less crazy ideas. And some crazy ideas are worth pursuing in their own right. At this delicate stage, it's best to shut down your inner critic and give them the day (or month) off. A Storystorm blog post by Jeanette Bradley had this fabulous quote from the Frog and Toad books:

“Toad put his head very close to the ground and shouted. ‘NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!’
Frog came running up the path.
‘What’s all this noise?’ he asked.
‘My seeds will not grow,’ said Toad.
‘You are shouting too much,’ said Frog. ‘These poor seeds are afraid to grow.'”

~ Arnold Lobel, FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER

You can show up, ready and willing. You can chase after ideas. But you can't drag them out of the mud, in seed form, scream at them and expect them to grow. Some need a little more time than others. There's a time and place for purging no-gos based on questions like "does this really excite me?" and "is this a marketable idea?". This is not that stage.  

5) MORNING PAGES + STORYSTORMING = A POWERFUL COCKTAIL: I've only recently started doing Morning Pages (more on that soon!) but I can already feel the difference in my writing. Combining this practice with storystorming has been transformational. It's a simple concept, courtesy of Julia Cameron - 3 pages of long-hand stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning. It clears the head of all the gunk and goo and to-dos and makes space for new ideas (and old ones). 

6) MATERIALS DO MATTER: Well, to me at least. I admire the screenwriter who plots out a masterpiece on the back of a napkin at a restaurant, I really do. But I need my Moleskines. Always softcover, always large or extra-large and always PLAIN (I've recently been converted). I cannot imagine writing on lined paper anymore. I need the freedom and world of possibility that only PLAIN paper can provide. And a biro - deep black. Find what works best for you. Some people love scraps of paper and patchwork notebooks - they fill them with joy. Find something you feel like coming back to. 

7): THERE'S A MAGIC TO COMMUNITY SPIRIT: There's something about working alongside a group of people with their eye on the same goal. It's inspiring. It's also a comfort on days when your well runs dry and what you really need is to know that you're not alone. They say writing is a lonely occupation. I think that's crazy. There is a difference between loneliness and solitude. I love my alone-time with my manuscripts and when I need a sign of life, I dip back into the amazing writing communities I'm very lucky to be a part of e.g. Storystorm, SCBWI, The Golden Egg Academy, and Kritikme.  

I've wrapped up the month with 42 picture book ideas (fiction and non-fiction) - some very nascent but very much there - plus a number of ideas for flash fiction pieces, early readers and young fiction!

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Massive thank you to Tara Lazar for bringing us all together and for organising so many amazing guest posts! 

I'm now going to attempt something crazy for February. I'm going to draft a manuscript a day. A complete draft: beginning, middle, end - that sort of thing. I'm going to get out of my own way, show up every day and write. There may be a lot of chopping and changing on the road ahead but I'm a firm believer in the tyranny of the blank page. This is my way of getting past that. Wish me luck! 

3 amazing multicultural non-fiction picture books for children

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A mouthful of a title but the best I could do to describe my 3 top picks in honour of Multicultural Children's Book Day 2018. I often talk about picture books being windows into the world and these books are exactly that. In no particular order as these are all firm favourites with my 3-year-old and will be loved and adored by older children too:

1) HERE WE ARE - Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Disclaimer: we are die-hard Oliver Jeffers fans in this household so I'm very biased but this is another level of beautiful. He wrote this for his son and you can sense that. It captures that feeling so many parents have - that desire to share all the need-to-know stuff with this little person in your life. It speaks straight to the heart but it's more than I-love-you. It's a subtle, complex hey, this is the world you've been born into...this is how it works, these are the incredible things around you...this is how precious it is and this is why you need to look after it. There's also a gorgeous spread where Jeffers describes how "People come in many shapes, sizes and colours" and adds that we "all look different, act different and sound different...but don't be fooled, we are all people." You have to see this spread - it's a beautiful conversation-starter for children. 

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2) LOTS by Marc Martin

This BOOK! It's an absolute treasure trove of information. The illustrations are stunning and so detailed and every page is jam-packed with juicy little facts and local quirks. It takes you everywhere from Tokyo with its vending machines (5.6 million of them in Japan!) selling everything from neck-ties to books to Ulaanbaatar, Moscow, Cairo, the Amazon Rainforest and New Delhi with the signature Indian head wobble and clay chai cups. I'd challenge any adult to flick through this one without wanting to stop and have a proper read.

3) THIS IS HOW WE DO IT by Matt Lamothe

This book follows a day in the lives of seven children from around the world - Italy, Japan, Uganda, Russia, India, Peru and Iran. We learn who they are, what kind of place and house they live in, who they live with, what they eat, how they go to school, what they wear and how they write, learn and play. It's a fascinating mix of cultures and seeing these lives laid out alongside each other offers a chance to celebrate differences while appreciating that there's a common thread running through each of these stories - something that binds us, something that means we're not so different after all. 

There are many more books in this vein - a happy reality because children love discovering other cultures. They drink this stuff. I just wanted to share 3 I thought were particularly special. If there are others that you've come across, please do share in the comments. I'd love to hear about them! 

 

The Anti-Resolution Revolution: Successes of 2017

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Children's author Julie Hedlund, challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post SUCCESSES (rather than resolutions) on our blogs this year. She believes the way New Year's resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity - what DIDN'T get done or achieved in the previous year.  Instead, she suggests we set goals for the New Year that BUILD on our achievements from the previous one. I decided to participate in this Anti-Resolution Revolution! Here is my list for 2017.

1) Fell in love with writing picture books. Discovered a real sense of purpose.

2) Restarted my Miracle Morning. Sun salutations, meditation, Morning Pages, reading, visualisation and intention/goal-setting to bring energy, depth and focus to my life and work. 

3) Decided to put an end to the struggle with Imposter Syndrome and call myself a writer. It's not a hobby - it's who I am, it's what I do. That subtle shift in intention has made a world of difference to my writing. 

4) Started writing EVERY SINGLE DAY after the Kritikme Novel in 90 course

5) Read LOTS of books. I mean LOTS even for a serial bookmuncher. 

6) Got accepted into the Golden Egg Academy Picture Book Programme. Had a wonderful, inspiring and encouraging 1:1 with my editor, Jo Collins, met a lovely group of truly brilliant writers and set up a new online critique group. 

7) Attended 3 writing festivals in my first 6 months of writing - Winchester, York and the SCBWI British Isles conference. Had some fantastic 1:1s with agents and editors who said they loved the pacing and voice in my stories and offered some fabulous suggestions for refining my manuscripts. Means the world to me as a new writer. 

8) Was selected as one of 11 writers on the Penguin Random House WriteNow mentoring programme to nurture diverse voices in publishing and, in 2018, will be working with a Penguin editor on my first picture book. Amazing to be chosen alongside these truly wonderful writers - their stories are incredible and very much needed. All the more amazing because I very nearly didn't apply - I didn't think I was diverse enough or strong enough. So glad I did! 

9) Wrote 7 picture books in 2017 and filled many, many pages of my picture book Moleskine with ideas. Signed up for the 12x12 12 Days of Christmas for Writers and got ready to join Storystorm 2018 to generate 30 picture book ideas in January. 

So grateful for the writing-related successes of 2017 and excited to see what 2018 has in store. I can't control the outcomes but I can control my own intention and my commitment. And as this crazy year comes to an end, those two things couldn't be stronger. 

 

 

 

How to write a novel in 90 days

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Confession: picture books are my true love but, like many people, I had a novel I desperately needed to get out of my system. I had just submitted a series of picture book manuscripts to the Golden Egg Academy and a Penguin Random House competition. I was on a roll writing-wise. That’s when I saw The Novelry and Louise Dean’s Ninety Day Novel Plan on Twitter. Here’s what happened next:  

Day 1: Ooh that sounds tempting.  Will pop it on the list for next year. 

Day 2: This Louise lady seems supercool too. Wait, she’s actually written a novel in 90 days and there are real live people out there who have done it too. What would that feel like?

Could I? 

SHOULD I? 

Day 3: Signed on the dotted line and haven’t looked back since. 

I know some people work on that first draft over 5 years but I loved the idea of an end-date. It’s not an “I-thrive-under-pressure” thing - I handed my university dissertation in 2 months early. It’s because there’s a magic to finishing. There’s a magic to getting past that blank page. Something to hold, something to edit. This will come out all wrong but I needed to know I could do it. I wanted that finished draft in my hands this side of Christmas and I got it - 30 October 2017. It had all the rugged charm of a first draft, which is code for “it was a complete embarrassment”, but it was a complete draft. I actually did it. And I can do it again. 

I won’t lie. I wasn’t the best of students. I didn’t write for the longest time. At first, I missed days here and there - life took over. But I’d missed the point. There is a genius to this 90 day business. Louise is right - it’s about forming habits. Once I resolved to be faithful, to put the novel first and to write EVERY SINGLE DAY, there was an incredible transformation in my writing. I wrote 75% of the draft within 3 weeks. Towards the end, I was living and dreaming my characters. I had an amazing aerial view of the story with all the paths leading to that final climax - all the missing pieces and all the things I needed to revisit, revamp or create in draft 2. Heavy, I know, but it was a kind of enlightenment. 

Gosh, this is all so self-involved. And that’s unfair because the KritikMe community at The Novelry has been a huge part of this. I have no idea how Louise has brought such an incredible group of people together. Is it self-selection? Whatever it is, it works. That community has been and continues to be my rock, my inspiration, my much-needed giggle on a slow or disastrous day. You see, there’s more to this plan than self-discipline, Moleskines, hero texts, an expertly crafted curriculum and a wonderful coach and mentor. 

And yes, I’m an evangelist. If you have a novel you need to get out of your system, you can take 5 years over that first draft if that floats your boat. You can flirt with the idea of writing it. Or you can join the Ninety Day Novel plan and get the thing done. 

How to Write Picture Books: 5 Takeaways from Winchester Writers' Festival 2017

WHAT an experience! 

I squeezed into the full-day picture book masterclass at the last minute and despite the 5 hours of solid travelling it entailed, I am so very glad I did. The workshop was led by the lovely Tracey Corderoy, an absolute master of scansion and a wonderful storyteller. We also had a jam-packed and supremely juicy hour with Louise Bolongaro, Head of Picture Books at Nosy Crow. I don't think I've scribbled so hard and so fast since my political philosophy final. Made me wish I'd fixed that terrible crow-grip back in primary school.

We went through all the usual discussions around plot structure, pacing, page turns and showing vs. telling but here are 5 of my biggest takeaways:

(1) Character matters. A lot. 

This is one of those things that you hear all the time. You know it matters but you still find yourself obsessed with the plot and the spreads and baking in your character's motivation retrospectively, stuffing it in wherever you find space. Or maybe that's just me! Well, Tracey's exercise of starting with the character has opened my eyes. Thinking about who they are and what makes them tick. What would really challenge them? How would they react? How would they change as a result?  Cue lightbulb moment. So this is what "character-driven" really means. No wonder Tracey's characters - the likes of Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam - have carried so well across a series of picture books and over into young fiction. 

 (2) Plot matters too. 

You can have a beautiful piece of prose or rhyme but it needs what Louise Bolongaro calls "lovely, meaty narrative substance." It needs to pass her "Finnish Prose translation test". Does it lose all its value when you strip away the rhyme and this particular selection of words? Or is it still a pacy, punchy read with plenty of charm? And a top tip from Tracey Corderoy - don't lose sight of the core of your story, the heart of it, the thing that made you want to write it in the first place. A great story speaks "from the heart of human experience". It makes you feel something. 

(3) If you want to rhyme, do it well. 

3 mini-points here:

  1. It's more than just syllable counts. It's about mastering scansion - how it scans. The stressed and unstressed syllables. For a brilliant example of this, read Tracey Corderoy's Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam! Rhyme with brilliant scansion is effortless to read and compels you to perform. 
  2. It's also about good, strong, story-driven rhyme as opposed to lazy, predictable rhyming that takes the writer in all sorts of strange directions.
  3. No inversions, apparently. Not for Nosy Crow, anyway. Julia Donaldson may get away with it but she is the Queen of Picture Books. It's different. 

(4) Pull the listener into the story.

Not just by way of a hook but make sure that they are invested in it. Repetition is a special invitation for children to join in. It's empowering. So is leaving something of the story for children to wonder at, to fill in the blanks. They become so much more than passive listeners. It becomes their story. 

(5) Never give in 

I had to include this because I still can't get that "Never give in" Churchill quote out of my head but also because it's a big bad world out there. In the words of Tracey Corderoy, you need to "be tenacious, thick-skinned, never give up." Get over that scary blank page and start writing. Experiment, be flexible. Don't be afraid to be wrong. Persevere. It can take time to get published. Tracey found an agent in no time at all but took 3 years to get published. She now has 50+ books to her name. It takes courage to be a writer. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I'm new to the picture book writing journey but this workshop has made me feel so excited, so energised. Picture books are so important. Louise Bolongaro put it beautifully: they're a child's first encounter with reading, they help them find their place in the world. They have a dual consumer - the reader and the listener - so there's a unique challenge in that they need to appeal to both. They need characters we care about, perfect pacing and plenty of story. They'll also be read aloud over and over and over so they need a powerful visual and auditory magic that never feels old, never fails to delight.

No pressure :)